On Commonplace Cultural Differences 2: London

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that I’ve not posted for a couple of weeks. My apologies; my usual routine has been upset by shifting from home in the North-East to London for a few months. Here, I’m balancing photograph digitisation at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, tracking down the locations of coins at the British Museum (if there’s any Nazi gold kicking about, I’m confident I will find it), and making a nuisance of myself at publishing houses like Claret Press. I’ve already been here a month, just enough time to feel settled in but still a bit of an outsider. Here’s a list of some specifics and more generalised things that have caught my attention:

  • First things first: it’s much more expensive to live here. That’s ok, I expected that. But £2.20 for a cup of tea? Bloody rip off. You can buy a couple of hundred teabags for under £3, and your water rates can’t be so high that the price is boosted so much.
  • Similarly, the beer prices. I expected this too; I knew I’d bid goodbye to the land-of-the-three-quid-pint when I got on the train at Newcastle. But I am still taken aback sometimes. Last Friday, for instance, I bought two pints of Peroni for £10.88. That’s £5.44 a pint. In contrast, the most expensive pint we sold at the pub I used to work at was £3.90, and in the end we got rid of that because no-one was buying it. I know Peroni’s imported, but still. I was aghast, but my friend who’s been living here longer just shrugged.
  • When I got here, I quickly realised that I’m never going to see all the theatre I want to see and drink in all the nice-looking pubs nearby. Not that that won’t stop me trying.
  • Pigeons. The little bastards know no fear. Luckily though, they’re not quite as bad as the Florentine ones I encountered last summer, who don’t jump even if you score a direct kick.
  • I feel that films and TV have lied to me. Since moving here, I have seen no car chases, no villainous plots being foiled, no alien invasions of Greenwich, no secret rendezvous, and generally no Bond-esque fisticuffs in front of famous landmarks. Spooks and so many films have disappointed me so much.

    I expected to see this at least onece a week on my daily commute. (Pic from london-underground.blogspot.com)

    I expected to see this at least once a week on my daily commute. (Pic from london-underground.blogspot.com)

  • The café round the corner from me has exactly the same stools that used to be in my science labs at school, and this unsettles me.
  • After living in Cambridge, I thought I’d experienced the worst of the trouble large groups of tourists can cause, but I was wrong. Particular groups I’ve noticed repeatedly acting in the same way are: the French, who stand side-by-side on the underground escalators, thus blocking them, the Americans, who stop dead in your way with their silly selfie sticks everywhere and the Italians, who are pretty aggressive with their wheelie suitcases. No-one beats the Brits at queuing, though, even when there is no logical reason for there to be a queue.
  • The Greggs pasties don’t quite taste the same but I can’t put my finger on the difference.
  • On the tube, everyone looks over their neighbour’s shoulder at what they’re reading and has the same “What, me?” face if caught out. This is very endearing to watch. I think I alarmed the guy next to me a few days ago, though, by whipping out my new copy of How to Avoid Being Killed in a War Zone by Rosie Garthwaite (I’m an armchair survivalist) and continuing my reading from the page on how to tie up tourniquets. In the corner of my eye I could see him gaze over, register surprise and jerk away to stare fixedly across the carriage. Not what he expected to read at 9am, but all useful stuff to know.
  • I really like the tube a lot. It’s much simpler than the bus and makes the city seem smaller and more manageable. I like how each line has its quirks: the District has tall carriages, the Circle is impossible to stand up on and the Jubilee has space-age outer doors on the platforms that I always worry won’t match up to the doors on the train. My favourite is the Northern Line, because it gets me everywhere (and it has “North” in its name).
  • “I see you wear high-heels on the tube? I also like to live dangerously.”
  • Saying that though, surfing the tube in heels is not hard to master as long as you’ve got your wits about you and hang on.
  • On an evening tube home, there’s always some eejit who tries to get on a too-full carriage and gets their bag blocking the door, thus delaying the train’s departure. Everyone else gets a commuter-bonding-moment when the train driver comes over the tannoy to sarcastically apologise on that eejit’s behalf.
  • I keep seeing green parrots in the garden. At first I thought I was going mad, but turns out there’s a load of them living feral South of the river. There’s one staring at me while I write this.

    "'Ello mate. This is my patch, remember." (Pic from littlebiglondon.wordpress.com)

    “‘Ello mate. Remember, this is my patch.” (Pic from littlebiglondon.wordpress.com)

  • If you stand in the ecology gallery of the Natural History Museum, a toddler throwing a level-ten tantrum in the gift shop sounds exactly like the Highland bagpipes. I was very confused.
  • You’ve got to wait much longer at the traffic lights here. My trick is: if I see a mother and pram go out into the road before the lights change then I chance out too – if she’s willing to risk her bairn it’s probably safe enough for me (and I’m a fast mover anyway).
  • At some pubs they come to your table to order a drink instead of you going to the bar. This confuses me, and is a dangerously quick way to rack up a massive bar tab.
  • It doesn’t feel too different from home. I mean, obviously you’re aware that you’re in a geographically bigger place than a small market town, and you know there’s much more going on daily, but it’s not overwhelming. What helps I think is that I’m stopping in South London, where there are plenty of parks and open spaces around as in my home town. There’s always stuff you can do, but you can also retreat.
  • That parrot’s still staring. I wonder what he knows.


    “Where you live, for a start off.”

2 thoughts on “On Commonplace Cultural Differences 2: London

  1. I am smiling because, except for the parrots and a few minor other swaps (such as dollars for pounds, and subway for tube), your post could have been written by a friend of mine years ago who temporarily relocated from Minnesota to New York City for job-training purposes. 🙂 She even made a similar comment about the ever-present and fearless pigeons!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! I suppose most big cities have their similarities, especially when you’ve moved there from somewhere smaller. 🙂 I feel sooner or later the parrots here will be just as bad as the pigeons…


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